01 September 2011

Water: Asia's New Battleground -- The non-review

This book by Brahma Chellaney comes out this month. In it, "Chellaney paints a larger picture of water across Asia, highlights the security implications of resource-linked territorial disputes, and proposes real strategies to avoid conflict and more equitably share Asia's water resources."

I tried to read my review copy but failed (hence the "non-review"). The prose is strangely formal and empty. For example [p. 238]:
To stop profligate use, water, however, must come with a reasonable price, even if it is not market based. The social impact of pricing can be cushioned by keeping water subsidies specifically for the poor. Rational pricing has long been held as a key element in water management and conservation.

Actually, at the heart of the Asian challenge is the need to raise water efficiency and productivity. To ease intrastate water shortages and disputes, Asian countries have little choice but to increase water productivity, especially in agriculture and industry...
I found that passage in the index of this 385pp book (looking for something of interest to me), but those anodyne statements are not even linked together. What about the connection between price and efficiency?

I am obviously interested in this book as a water economist, but let's just pick a random passage [opens book on random page and stabs with finger]... on page 85:
China, though largely-self-sufficient in grains at present, is the world's largest importer of soybeans, which are oilseeds, not a grain, and mainly serve as animal feed for the fast growing Chinese meat industry. Since 2008, it has started importing increasing quantities of wheat, although its imports remain small compared with world output. But given that China accounts for one-sixth of global wheat production, a serious drought in some of its wheat growing provinces can trigger major imports.
So what?

It seems that Chellaney (a professor of strategic studies at the independent Center for Policy Research in New Delhi) likes to see his thoughts (all of them!) on paper. That's a problem for people like me who favor insights over pedantic exposition.

As I skimmed back and forth in this book, I got the feeling that Chellaney is much more comfortable with state-to-state discussions of water issues based on technocratic minutes, agendas and memoranda of understanding. In my limited experience, those documents read much like this book. I'd prefer to see the executive summary.

Bottom Line: I give this book TWO STARS and recommend it ONLY to researchers interested in trans-boundary water disputes in Asia.

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